Closed-loop Control of Flexible High Value Metal Component Manufacture
Manufacturing involves only three types of processes - adding, changing or removing material. 'Metal Bashing' - changing the shape of metal components without removal or additions - is easily over-looked but continues to be central to UK manufacturing: jet engines, medical scanners, cars, high-rise offices and contemporary industrial equipment all depend on metal forming, both to define component geometries and to create the properties such as strength and toughness which determine product performance. Metal forming processes are central to the production of a third of all manufactured exports from the UK which are in total worth over £75bn. However, the tools required for forming metal components are custom-made for each application at great cost, so metal forming is often expensive unless used in mass production, yet the drivers for development of future high-value UK manufacturing require increased flexibility and smaller batch sizes without sacrificing either the accuracy or properties of metal parts. In the past twenty years, several research labs around the world have responded to this challenge and explored the design and development of novel flexible metal forming equipment. However these processes have largely failed to move from the lab into industrial use, due to a lack of precision and a failure to guarantee product microstructure and properties. Recent developments in sensors, actuators, control theory and mathematical modelling suggest that both problems could potentially be overcome by use of closed-loop control. The project brings together four disciplines, previously un-connected in the area of flexible forming, to develop the key knowledge underpinning future development of commercially valuable flexible metal forming equipment: mechanical design of novel equipment; control-engineering; materials science of metal forming; fast mathematical process modelling. At the heart of the project is the ambition to link design, metallurgy and modelling to control engineering, in order to develop and apply flexible forming, and to demonstrate it in practice in four well focused case-studies.
Partners: Department of Material Science, University of Oxford; Department of Engineering and DAMTP, University of Cambridge; Siemens VAI; Firth Rixon; Jaguar Land Rover
Duration: 2013 to date